A Facebook cybersecurity exec had his home swatted by Palo Alto police after a prank call claimed he shot his wife, tied up his kids, and placed pipe bombs around the house.
A SWAT squad arrived in force at the exec’s home, a two-bedroom house in Palo Alto, ordered him to step out, and briefly arrested the man as they searched the house.
Officers released the exec after a few hours when they realized the call was just another swatting hoax carried out by anonymous users using untraceable phone numbers.
In a press release published the next day, Palo Alto police said they intervened in force after a man called 911, gave the exec’s name and correct address.
The yet to be identified caller claimed he shot his wife, tied up his two children, placed pipe bombs inside the home, and threatened to kill anyone approaching his house.
The prank call took place Tuesday night, around 9-10 PM, local time. The caller stayed on the line until a negotiator was put through, but dropped out when he realized he succeeded in making the officers take the call seriously.
According to the Palo Alto Daily Post, who first reported the swatting, the exec was unharmed, yet scared. The executive’s name and job title have not been made public.
“We thank the city of Palo Alto for their swift and thoughtful response. They quickly identified this as a prank, and we are glad that our colleague and his family are safe,” a Facebook spokesperson told ZDNet via email today.
“The suspect could face multiple criminal charges, as well as face potential civil liability as a cost recovery measure for the law enforcement response,” said a Palo Alto Police spokesperson in regards to the incident.
“The law enforcement response to this incident took officers away from their other important duties and calls. Anyone found responsible for placing a hoax call like this will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Palo Alto police also added.
The practice of swatting has been rampant in the US for the past decade. It consists of people making prank calls to police, alerting officers of emergencies at friends or rivals’ homes. Perpetrators try to obtain an in-force response from authorities, like sending a SWAT squad to the victim’s house.
The practice is widespread in the gaming and cryptocurrency communities [1, 2, 3]. While most swatting incidents result in victims getting a good scare, a police intervention went terribly bad in 2017, when a Kansas man was shot dead. The author of that swatting call, a serial swatter, was eventually identified and arrested, and later pleaded guilty.
The Facebook cybersecurity exec is not the first cybersecurity professional to have been the victim of a swatting call. Infosec journalist Brian Krebs has been the end of a few of these incidents in the past[1, 2].